Next up on my itinerary is Albania. Although Belgrade and Tirana are less than 550 km apart, there’s no easy way to get from one to the other on inexpensive public transit. No trains connect Albania with the outside world. Busses between the two cities, I’ve learned, seem pretty complicated. So, what’s a girl to do when she wants to go from Serbia to Albania if she doesn’t have 116 hours to walk it?
Well, I happened to be reading an article in The Guardian about the magnificent trip on The Balkan Express, which runs from Belgrade to Bar, Montenegro. No, it’s not fast. No, there’s no First Class. But, it’s cheap and beautiful. Lonely Planet calls it “The Ultimate Balkans Train Trip.” Well, since I’ve taken all the other Balkans train trips, how could I pass up one with 435 bridges and 254 tunnels?!
So, on Saturday, I will venture to Belgrade’s Topcider station, built in 1884, and embark on the 12-hour journey, hopping off in Podgorica, Montenegro. There, I will spend the night at a hotel — the only night in a hotel on my entire 7-week trip — before boarding a plane for a quick 1-hour flight back to Belgrade the next morning.
Yes, that’s right. I’m taking a 12-hour train ride only to get back on a plane to fly to the city where I boarded the train. From Belgrade, I’ll hop a short 70-minute flight to Tirana. Both flights are on Air Serbia, and I’ve taken advantage of their partnership with Etihad. Using 10,000 Etihad Guest miles (along with 26EUR in taxes), I get to take the train ride of a lifetime (or so I’ve been promised) and fly into Tirana. It wasn’t how I’d originally planned to travel, but isn’t flexibility the point of slow travel?